On first-name basis with visiting hummingbirds
Summer is here and I find myself filled with great optimism. The flowers are blooming, the grass is lush and thick and wonderfully suited to barefoot walking, and my good friend Bert is back in town.
I have come to know Bert as a brassy little competitor who seems to tolerate my presence with a sort of friendly indifference, but he will selfishly defend anything he sees as his own from just about anyone.
Did I forget to mention that Bert is a hummingbird? Actually, he is a ruby-throated hummingbird. And while I’ve seen him around here and there in the spring, I plan to spend much more time in his company this summer.
I know that some may frown on the anthropomorphizing of wild animals, but if you think I’ve crossed the line by giving this bird a name, just wait. Bert’s full name is Bertram Minushkin, and his mate is Rae Minushkin. My wife, Susan, gave Bert his name, but I liked it so much that I use it too.
Neighbors and names
Susan grew up in the town of Greensburg, Pa. Her father owned a replacement window factory and moved the family from Indiana, Pa., to the site of his new factory. Knowing no one, the family settled into their new surroundings and it wasn’t long before they discovered that they had some wonderful neighbors.
The Minushkins were friendly people who were always very busy. It turns out that they were also small of stature. Susan loved the Minushkins so, in what is clearly a leap of what I call “Susan Logic,” the pair of hummingbirds that come to the hummingbird feeder on our deck were instantly called Bert and Rae Minushkin. When I asked Susan why she picked these names, she said it was because they were little, busy and cute. You can’t argue with that, so the birds remain Bert and Rae.
Bert (or at least the current male in town) has claimed the hummingbird feeder hung on my porch and will deliver tremendous violence upon any other hummingbird who dares to approach. Well, at least as much violence as a hummingbird can manage.
In actuality, hummingbird conflicts are hilarious because they can make all kinds of different noises using their voices and wings. So when a hummingbird fight is on, it actually sounds like a miniature duel between tiny X-wings and TIE fighters. I almost believe that they make noises on purpose, the way kids playing army make machine-gun sounds.
Bert will continue this reign of iron-fisted terror for as long as he can, but at some point in the late summer he will become overwhelmed by the sheer number of baby hummingbirds that come to the feeder. Bert will go down kicking and screaming, but eventually he will have to sit and sulk while the little ones explore their world.
Then, just after school starts up again, the hummingbirds will all disappear. Bound for Mexico and requiring a healthy supply of flowers along the way, they have to bail out of the north early.
They head south until they hit the Gulf of Mexico and then, in a physiological feat that still baffles scientists, these tiny birds that require food every 10 minutes head south over the ocean and fly nonstop to Mexico.
Easy to attract
Hummingbird feeders are available almost everywhere, and a syrup of one part sugar and four parts boiling water is an inexpensive treat to offer. If you have even a little room, try putting up a feeder and attracting your own hummingbirds. Just remember that I’ve already used the names Bert and Rae.
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.